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Cowboys Roster: Strategies & Players At Safety

In the last couple of weeks we have looked at various strategies and players for each position. We looked at both free agents and draft prospects that could fill the Cowboys needs.

This week, we’re looking at defensive backs. The first part went out yesterday and covered the cornerback position, while this second article will deal with the safeties.

To start us off, let’s review the state of the defensive backfield.

The Cowboys will lose Morris Claiborne and they will get Orlando Scandrick back. Brandon Carr will most likely restructure his contract. Barry Church and JJ Wilcox will fill two of the safety positions. I expect they will resign Jeff Heath but let Danny McCray go.

So the Cowboys will need to fill either a starting corner or safety position (Byron Jones would fill other), and add a backup free safety, and corner.

Now, here are some free agents that can fill the position.

Eric Berry (Kansas City)
Broaddus’ wish list free agent, he would be a great pairing with Church or Jones, however I doubt the Cowboys will pay the price Berry will command.

Walter Thurmand (Philadelphia)
He is aggressive in coverage but does get beat. He would allow Jones to move back and play corner for the Cowboys.

Sean Richardson (Green Bay)
A backup safety in Green Bay, could add depth for the Cowboys.

Rodney McLeod (Los Angeles)
An undersized cover safety, he would provide a free safety for the Cowboys which would allow Jones to move to corner.

Louis Delmas (Miami)
A 29 year old, twice injured safety, Delmas would be a good player, but a risk. Would not sign him for more than a one or two year contract. He would at least add depth to the safety position.

Rashad Johnson (Arizona)
An every down player for the Cars, but at 30 he is on the downside. Possibly a three year contract with two years guaranteed will do it. He would start at free safety.

Rafael Bush (New Orleans)
Was on the injury reserved list the last two years. He started but was average. He could be a cheap option to add depth. At 28, he still has three to five years as a player.

George Iloka (Cincinnati)
Good safety in his prime but may be too expensive and is better as a strong safety than free. I do not see the Cowboys going after him to pair with Church or Wilcox.

 

Now let’s look at the draft prospects who could help the Cowboys.

Before we do, let’s look at some of the traits we look at when grading a safety.

  1. Recognition/Awareness – Can the safety recognize patterns and see what is developing in front of him?
  2. Tackling – Do they square, do they finish, and do they have pop?
  3. Angles – Does the safety take the right angles to cut off routes and runner? Do they take the right angle on the deep throws to cut off receivers?
  4. Coverage – Can the safety carry a TE, running back or slot? How much ground do they protect when playing single high.
  5. Speed, Quickness, Athleticism – Physical strengths.
  6. Ball Skills – Does the safety have the ability to high point, catch and return?
  7. Playmaking – Do they cause turnovers, can they blitz and get to the QB?
  8. Assignments – Do they understand what they are supposed to be doing and are they disciplined enough to do it?

Now for the players…

Jalen Ramsey

Strengths

  • Great size for DB
  • Fast and strong. A great size/speed ratio
  • Versatile – can play any position in the secondary and probably the WILL if needed
  • Game Changer – causes turnovers, bats balls down, and can get sacks
  • A cover safety – can lock down TEs and receivers
  • Attitude – Highly competitive, aggressive, has swagger
  • A hitter – he likes contact
  • Athletic. Great body control
  • Great anticipation and vision
  • Can blitz well off edge
  • One of the best players in this draft

Weaknesses

  • Not a lot of weaknesses, but there are areas to improve
  • Is better in off coverage than man coverage
  • Struggles against quicker, shiftier revivers
  • Sometimes does not work hard to get off blocks
  • Can get carried away emotionally

Summary

  • Versatility, athleticism, strength, speed, size, attitude and anticipation. A complete play maker. He is a game changer who disrupts and causes turnovers.
  • Would provide the Cowboys versatility and depth at both safety and corner.
  • He would help the Cowboys create turnovers and make big plays
  • He is a top 10 pick

 

Jeremy Cash

Strengths

  • A great hitter
  • Disruptive. Shoots gaps better than any player I have seen
  • Great motor, always moving to the ball
  • Good anticipation. See play develop in front of him
  • Can cover the slot adequately
  • Can avoid blocks or take on blocker and shed
  • Really good tackler in traffic
  • A playmaker, good at stripping ball
  • Very good with blitz, both from inside and outside
  • Very aggressive

Weaknesses

  • Coverage skill needs work
  • Sometimes can be too aggressive and over run the play
  • Sometimes his aggression can take him out of the play
  • Needs to play better in space. Can take aggressive angles

Summary

  • Best hitter I have seen so far
  • Has a knack for shooting gaps and making plays
  • Looks to cause turnovers
  • Would be starting strong safety for Cowboys, but would need time to develop coverage skills
  • Would provide attitude and aggressiveness for Cowboys
  • I would not be upset if the Cowboys got him with their second. Better yet, trade down in the first and pick up a mid – second rounder and take him then.
  • He is a top 45 pick

 

Vonn Bell

Strengths

  • Good body control
  • Good man coverage skills
  • Reads QB well
  • Sees play developing, great anticipation
  • Will always winds up near ball
  • Will come up and tackle
  • Good hands
  • Plays single high safety
  • Good angles when receiver is dragging or underneath
  • Smart, knows schemes and assignments
  • Plays in balance

Weaknesses

  • Solid tackler, but not a big hitter
  • Can overrun plays is susceptible to cut backs
  • Is short for free safety
  • At times waits for runner rather than attack forward
  • Runners can bounce off of him at times, not someone who will drive them back. Running back will win the short yardage battle.

Summary

  • Solid, willing tackler but will miss and be knocked back
  • Good as single high safety
  • If he adds mass, could play SS and FS. FS to start.
  • For Cowboys he could take over single high FS and allow Jones to move to corner.
  • He is a top 60 pick

 

Su’a Cravens

Strengths

  • Hitter, likes contact
  • Good awareness, sees and hits it
  • Physical and strong
  • A linebacker mentality in a safety’s body
  • Great speed, strength, size ration
  • Great attacking gaps
  • Can carry TEs up the field. Has size to body them
  • Aggressive, always on the attack

Weaknesses

  • Need to see what he brings in coverage
  • Can be too aggressive and overrun plays
  • Needs better pass rushing moves. Needs bigger arsenal of moves
  • Can get beat by misdirection

Summary

  • Want to see what his measurables are at the combine to see if he has the quickness to cover a slot receiver.
  • Not sure what his position will be. A lot will depend on his 40 time. If he runs in the 4.5 range, then he is an all-star caliber safety. If it is a 4.7, then he will need to bulk up and be a Will linebacker. He can do both, but at safety he can be a real play maker.
  • As talented as anyone in the draft with an attitude with it
  • For Cowboys, contribute at strong safety. But do not see Cowboys drafting him unless they think he can be a WILL
  • He is a top 75 pick

 

Darian Thompson

Strengths

  • Good size.
  • Makes plays; seemed like he had a pick or caused a fumble in every game
  • Good against the run and pass. Can play near the line of scrimmage or in coverage
  • Will come up an hit a crossing route or runner
  • Decent tackler
  • Can cover the slot in man
  • Can make a play on the ball in the air. Only saw a couple of dropped interceptions
  • Knows assignment and is disciplined enough to do assignment before looking to jump routes
  • Aggressive, will come down hard to make play

Weaknesses

  • Not an elite “hitter”
  • Can over run plays and can take bad angles because of his aggression
  • Will gamble to make play

Summary

    • A lot riding on the combine numbers. Needs to verify speed
    • Can play both free safety than strong safety
    • Real play maker
    • For Cowboys, would be starting free safety and let Jones move to corner.

** The Cowboys may be able to get him in the third he is rated in the top 50 to 60 players. My feeling is he will be gone in the mid to late second. I have him rated as a top 50 player

 

DeAndre Houston-Carson

Strengths

  • Decent size at 6”1
  • What I like most about him is that he is always coming forward and moving to the ball.
  • Every play he ends up where the play ends. He is always near the ball.
  • A willing tackler. Not a thumper, but someone willing to put his head in there
  • Looks to be a natural playmaker. Interceptions and strips.
  • Can make plays on the ball when he is in position
  • Good hands, doesn’t fight the ball
  • Covered the slot well
  • Played off coverage well
  • Can jump routes effectively
  • Will chase a runner all the way across the field

Weaknesses

  • Not what I would call a thumper.
  • Will miss an occasional tackle. Well not miss, but I saw where a runner or two broke through his tackle
  • Can take too aggressive an angle at times. Mostly when RB is coming out of a pile at the line.
  • Not enough tape against quality teams. Didn’t see him get beat deep in games that I watched, but feel he might because he is always coming forward. Need to verify after more tape.

Summary

  • It is hard to trust the tape. He looks faster than the players he is up against, but it is weaker competition. His combine scores and testing should prove if he is athletic enough.
  • While not a thumper, he is a willing tackler and he is always near the ball.
  • I think he can play free or strong. While he looks like a playmaker, his tendency is to attack, so he may be better strong after time
  • He needs to add strength, particularly if he has to play strong safety
  • Solid in all aspects, smart and fundamental; it will depend if he is athletic enough to be a starter
  • For Cowboys, he would compete at safety, but would probably be a contributor and add depth.
  • I have him as a top 90 player. Most boards have him around 90 -100. If he is there in the fourth, the Cowboys should take a look at him. Even if they have had bad luck with small school safeties.

 

Jalen Mills

Strengths

  • Decent size
  • Smart player, who always ends up near the ball
  • Was good at reading route and understanding what the offense was trying to do
  • Can make plays on the ball when he is in position
  • Steady player, not great in any area but solid in most
  • Will tackle well in the open field

Weaknesses

  • Avoids hitting, unless he is the only one who can make play
  • Doesn’t look to have elite speed or quickness
  • Is only average covering the slot in man

Summary

    • As much as anyone, he has a lot riding on the combine. If he has the speed of a safety (4.65 – 4.70), then he is a fourth to fifth rounder. If he has the speed of a corner (4.5), then he is a third rounder. We also need to see if he has stiff hips or he can turn and run fluidly. His shuttle time will also be important to understand if he can move in the slot.
    • He is either a late 4th round free safety or he is a third round corner. He is not physical enough to be a strong safety.
    • Solid in all aspects, smart and fundamental; it will depend is he athletic enough to be a starter
    • For Cowboys, would be a contributor and add depth at free safety and corner.

** The Cowboys may be able to get him in the fourth as he is rated in the top 75-90 on most boards. I have him rated as a top 100 player

 

Keanu Neal

Strengths

  • Looks the part.
  • Big hitter
  • Comfortable near the line of scrimmage
  • Several hits caused fumbles
  • Covered flat well
  • Can play in cover two and cover some ground
  • Took aggressive angles and made plays in the pass game
  • Will chase a runner all the way across the field

Weaknesses

  • Too aggressive with angles at times
  • Not square when tackling. Saw several plays where runners bounced off
  • Doesn’t make a ton of big plays in passing game. More a disciplined in the right place and fundamentally sound. Would love to see more picks.
  • Can overrun play because of aggression

Summary

    • At Florida he played both Free and Strong. But I think strong is his natural position.
    • He needs to continue to work on speed and quickness.
    • Solid, good player, but not sure he will be a great player. Limited upside.
    • For Cowboys, he would be depth at safety and a special teams contributor. I personally think within a year will be an upgrade over JJ Wilcox. While Neal can take bad angles, he is much better than JJ and he has better instincts as a free safety.

** I have him on the edge of being a top 100 player. Most boards have him around 125. If he is there in the fourth, the Cowboys should take a look at him. Even if they have had bad luck with small school safeties.

 

Karl Joseph

Strengths

  • Good athlete
  • Good coverage skills on slot
  • Plays assignment football
  • Has decent motor
  • Can make play on ball in air
  • Will set edge on rusher

Weaknesses

  • Would like for him to be a big play guy. Just doesn’t make enough big plays
  • At times it seems like he avoids contact
  • Can take horrible angles
  • Not a great blitzer
  • Several times in the Texas game he was in space and got turned around by the runner
  • Not a big hitter

Summary

    • Not my favorite player. Would like to see more physicality and aggression. Would like to see more big plays
    • I think he is more of a free safety than strong safety
    • He seems to always be near the play, but not actually in the play
    • He reminds me of JJ Wilcox with the angles he takes, but without the pop

** I have him rated at the end of the fourth round. Top 130 pick.

 

Tyvis Powell

Strengths

  • 6’3 and put together. Not an awkward player as some tall player are. Good size/quick ratio.
  • Smart player knows his assignment
  • Can cover a good deal of ground
  • Can win in jump ball situations
  • Descent hands, can make play on balls when he is in position
  • Can read routes well
  • Decent motor

Weaknesses

  • Not a hitter.
  • Misses tackles and take poor angles at times
  • Can miss a tackle
  • Seen him get turned around trying to cover slot
  • Not good around the line of scrimmage.

Summary

    • Curious what type of numbers he will put up. Could put up good combine numbers and jump up on boards
    • Purely a free safety, he is better playing the ball versus the runner.
    • Hard to trust him as the last safety because he is not a sure tackler.
    • For Cowboys, he would be a contributor and add depth at free safety but I doubt the Cowboys will look at him because they like safety’s who can tackle. But his size and range could help in passing situations and perhaps he could contribute in nickel and dime situations.

** The Cowboys may be able to get him later in the draft, if his stock falls. Would be an acceptable 5th rounder. I have him rated in the top 125 – 150 range. His size is one attribute that he possess that is hard to get so a team will most likely take a chance in the fourth or 5th round.

 

Miles Killibrew

Strengths

  • Good size
  • It is hard to tell because of the talent he was playing against, but looks to have good speed
  • Can come up and play the flat
  • Has decent motor
  • Looks to be decent tackler
  • Can cover the slot
  • Is an effort player

Weaknesses

  • Not a big hitter
  • Does not have great coverage skills
  • Not good at free safety. Doesn’t read routes or anticipate cuts
  • Doesn’t really make a good break on ball or play it well in the air
  • Seems to get banged up a lot

Summary

    • A lot riding on the combine numbers
    • I think he is more of a free safety than strong safety
    • Not a real play maker
    • For Cowboys, depending on his combine numbers, he would be a project player, but one with upside. Possible replacement for Heath.

** I have him rated somewhere around the sixth round or top 175 pick

 

Jayron Kearse

Strengths

  • Good size
  • Good straight line speed
  • Decent at the blitz
  • Plays good, fundamental assignment football
  • Can make plays
  • Will chase down plays

Weaknesses

  • Not a big hitter
  • Does not have great coverage skills because of his long legs
  • Not good at change of direction
  • Stiff hips
  • He is faster than he is quick

Summary

    • Would be average against run and average against pass
    • Will make plays, but will give them up too
    • For the Boy, he would be a backup safety without much upside

** I have him rated somewhere around the sixth round or top 175 pick

 

Strategies for the Safety Position

If the Cowboys like Ramsey, the strategy is easy; draft him and he provides the ultimate flexibility. Team him with Jones and he can either play safety or corner. Getting the final piece can be done in free agency or later in the draft. Cowboys will have a few 6th round picks.

However, this is not the strategy I think they will go with. They will most likely use a third or fourth round pick to fill the need. But there are not a lot of starting quality free safeties in the draft.

Vonn Bell and Darian Thompson are the most likely candidates to be taken with the Dallas’ third. Bell may not be there by the time the Cowboys draft in the third. In the fourth, DeAndre Houston-Carson could be available. Other than that, any picks would be to simply add depth or take a risk/reward project.

If the Cowboys do not draft a safety in the first few rounds (and do not add a corner), then they will need to get a safety in free agency. The most likely FA safeties would be Johnson (Cardinals), McLeod (Rams), and Delmas (Dolphins).

My guess is that the Cowboys will leave Jones at safety and draft a starting corner early in the draft and a backup safety later in the fourth or sixth. The one exception to this strategy is that Ramsey and Jones together gives them great quality, depth, and versatility at safety.

What do you think?

Tommy Simon

Written by Tommy Simon

Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO.

Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country.

Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews.

For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

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